Remote Work Trends in the Life Sciences Workplace

As the pandemic continues on, companies are considering and attempting the shift back to in-person work, foregoing the remote setting forced upon them with the onset of the pandemic. However, many companies are finding that remote work, while initially necessary to help combat the contagious nature of the Coronavirus, has proven to be an immense advantage to their company. These companies are now providing employees the option to work at home or in the office, or a combination of the two. This flexibility offers numerous benefits for not only the employee, but in turn to the company.

There’s a reason why so many companies are choosing to offer these flexible work locations when the job is one that allows it, and with the knowledge gained from the time spent going remote during the pandemic, the culture surrounding remote work will likely continue shifting.

Observed Benefits of Remote Working

The idea of remote work was initially thrust upon us, with very little preparation and a large mentality of “learn as you go”. However, individuals quickly leaned into this lifestyle and experienced the numerous benefits that accompanied this new method of work that was so vastly different than the typical in-office setting.

Fewer Distractions

The days of unnecessary interactions among coworkers reached their end when remote work became an option. For those who could find a home office where they could lock themselves away while completing their work, time sped by as they worked on their tasks sans distractions, getting their required work done quickly without interruption to their “flow”.

In fact, a study found that boundary management in regard to the work-life balance is a big contributor to how successful someone is with remote work, or how likely they are to prefer working in-office. Having a dedicated office space in the home results in more individuals who thrive when working in a home environment, while those who do not have a clear-cut work-life balance prefer the office setting and its ability to help distinguish between these two aspects of their lives.

Competitive Advantage

Remote work offers the opportunity to look for employees further outside the company’s specific zip code. A June 2021 Life Sciences Workforce Trends Report prepared by TEConomy quoted many Life Sciences Industry Executives who have found that when location is no longer an issue, higher levels of talent can be hired.

The effect of hiring the wrong employee for the job is immense, with the 2019 JMG Hiring and Compensation Report finding that the average cost of hiring the wrong sales employee to be $84,824, which is higher than last year, suggesting that this trend may continue to rise. For those wondering just how likely this type of deficit is, the report found that over 65% of the mis-hires cost the company over $75K, and more than 45% of those companies were cost over $100K from the wrong hire. Hiring the right person for the job is essential, and the numbers prove it.

It’s not just sales employee mis-hires that result in a hit to the company’s finances, with regulatory mis-hires costing companies an average of $83,000, and two-thirds of all R&D mis-hires costing a company over $100K. Many of these positions are also difficult to fill, with most positions in the life sciences field taking anywhere from 3 – 9 months to fill. So, not only is the open position costing the company money, but choosing to go with a suboptimal hire just to fill the position and due to a lack of options can be costly as well.

Companies commonly cite identifying top candidates as one of the top struggles of filling life sciences positions. Studies have found that remote work, and whether or not a company offers it, can make the company more appealing to prospective employees. This allows employers to attract and retain talented workers, especially younger workers, in markets that are increasingly competitive.

Maintaining Employee Satisfaction

Research and development (R&D) is one area where it pays well to ensure that your employees are happy at their job, as many companies find that the best talent for jobs in these fields come from those already working in the industry. In fact, the 2019 JMG Report found that 86% of R&D talent comes from inside the industry, and it makes sense. R&D requires a lot of knowledge about the company, and it is easiest to work with individuals who are already familiar with the company, its goals, and its current projects.

In instances such as this, maintaining happy employees ensures that the work within the company is at its best because it encourages higher retention rates. Regarding what employees view as the most important aspects of their jobs, two categories stand above the rest: compensation and work environment/culture.

Despite these two areas being the most important, employees continue to rank these aspects as below three, on a scale of 1-8, according to the 2019 JMG Report. In addition, a survey of over 900 Life Sciences professionals, completed by EPM Scientific, found that only 50% of all participants held a positive sentiment in regards to their job satisfaction.

Results such as these demonstrate a need to better focus on employee satisfaction, and remote and hybrid work styles are proving to be a solution.

The Benefits of a Hybrid Model

Within the life sciences industry, teamwork and camaraderie are essential to keep up morale when the work becomes overwhelming, and the possibility of success seems low. Like-minded individuals provide a way to bolster support and improve everyone’s mood.

Online video conferencing systems provide a way to work as a team, even when the team is not together. It’s as close to being in the same room as some people may need, allowing them to quickly bounce ideas off each other, read facial cues, and share/mock-up visual images and demonstrations even when in different areas.

However, one thing that is commonly cited as missing from a fully remote workstyle is the camaraderie and ability to build strong relationships with other coworkers. While this may not be necessary for many jobs, life sciences are one area where this teamwork can make or break a company. In many cases, this drive and love for a company are what propels it forward, whereas the lack of it can cause it to break down before it even gets started.

Hybrid workstyles are appealing because they take advantage of this remote work environment, which, as discussed, already offers many benefits, while still allowing the team to convene every so often (likely at a set schedule) and work on projects, build a good work environment, and ensure that everyone is still happy at the company.

The hybrid model is likely to continue growing, primarily for its benefits to the employees. Some individuals face a long commute and working from home offers them more flexibility and more productive working hours. Others may prefer working in an office space for the peer interactions and ability to work through a problem face-to-face. The hybrid model offers a way to appeal to both employee types, allowing them to work in whichever way most appeals to them and get their work done to the highest possible standard.

Not only that, but studies have found that remote work flexibility offers significant improvement on organizational performance. If these past two years have taught us anything, it’s that each employee can best accomplish their work in certain ways, and the most successful companies understand and cater to these differences in work styles.

However, the benefits of remote work do not only extend to the employees. Remote working opportunities also allow companies to downsize their physical headquarters or dedicate more of the office space to the individuals who need to show up in person, allowing all areas of the company to grow without needing any additional physical space.

The Future of Remote Work in Life Sciences

Remote work is no longer a vision for the future or an idea that seemed impossible due to the need to be in an office setting, interacting with peers all day. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that remote work is possible in many fields, including Life Sciences, and the momentum gained in remote work is only going to continue to grow.

Remote work offers numerous benefits to both the employee and employer, with some of the biggest ones including competitive advantage, fewer distractions, and higher employee satisfaction. Competitive advantage, in particular, increases the likelihood of hiring the best person for the job, with the numbers showing just how costly it is to hire the wrong person.

The hybrid model will likely continue to build, and companies will shift their models from purely remote to a hybrid model that allows employees to combine remote and in-office work. This model provides the best of both worlds and will enable employees to work in a way that is most productive and conducive to a happy work environment, one of the highest indicators of job satisfaction. The pandemic may have forced the hand of companies regarding remote working, but this new work style has provided many benefits to Life Sciences companies, and it will continue to adapt and fit the individual needs of each company and job position.

References

[1] https://www.ejbmr.org/index.php/ejbmr/article/view/1170/647

[2] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0148296321007967

[3] https://iaap-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/apps.12300

[4] https://www.epmscientific.com/global-job-confidence-index-2021?utm_source=Biopharma_Dive&utm_medium=PR&utm_campaign=EPM_JobConfidenceIndex

[5] https://www.thbi.com/2021-workforce-trends.pdf

[6] https://www.jacobsmgt.com/download-the-latest-compensation-and-hiring-report/

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